CAMROSE, Alta. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.
While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2019-20 season, one that had no shortage of excitement across both U Sports and the CCAA, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead.
The 2020-21 season is going to be one for the history books. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the season has been pushed back until at least January 2021 for most leagues, with Quebec as the exception. The RSEQ has yet to make a decision on whether or not to delay sports until the Winter semester.
To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2020-21 season.
That’s 112 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally at home.
We are attempting to preview each and every team from coast to coast ahead of the new season. Challenges have emerged in each of the last two seasons as we’ve attempted this feat before, but we’re going to give it another run.
As they say, third time’s the charm. Right?
For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.
Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.
Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the Augustana Vikings Women’s Basketball program, taking a look at what could’ve been if they had been able to participate in the 2020-21 season.
2019-20 in Review
Before we dive into what the 2019-20 season looked like for the Vikings, it’s worth noting that the University of Alberta-Augustana made the decision to suspend ALL sports for the 2020-21 season back on June 19th, 2020. The decision received backlash from students, rightfully so. Given everything, things may still change depending on the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, as it stands now, the Vikings will not participate in the ACAC during the 2020-21 season. So, this preview is to take a look at what could have been for the Vikings had they been able to compete, and is merely speculation.
It’s also in the nature of including every team in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series, even if they aren’t participating.
Now, with all of that said, the Vikings are coming off a 2019-20 season of transition for the program. Former Head Coach Robyn Fleckenstein made the jump to U Sports with the Mount Royal Cougars, as did forward Emma vanBruinessen (UNBC Timberwolves) and guard Jessica Haenni (Lethbridge Pronghorns).
John Dedrick was formally announced as the new Head Coach of the program back on October 30th, 2019, two weeks after the season officially began. Augustana struggled out of the gate, dropping their first two contests of the year, both against the Keyano College Huskies.
The Vikings bounced back in a big way, posting a seven-game winning streak to regain momentum and send them into the break on a high note.
Out of the break, Augustana began the 2020 calendar year by alternating wins and losses. They would find a rhythm and win three of their final four regular season games to post a 14-10 record and finish fourth in the North Division standings.
Despite their slow start in the first weekend and the transition surrounding the program, the Vikings advanced to the 2020 ACAC Women’s Basketball Championship.
At the event, the Vikings posted a 1-2 record when it was played. However, the Vikings were dealt a 2-0 forfeit loss in their Consolation Semi-final contest against the Lethbridge College Kodiaks after the fact.
Augustana dropped their opener to the Olds College Broncos, 71-57, before knocking off the Kodiaks in their next contest, 57-42. The Vikings closed the tournament with a loss to the host Medicine Hat Rattlers, 61-57, to finish sixth overall.
After starting the year off with two straight losses, then beginning the second half with alternating wins and losses and struggling to find consistent momentum down the stretch until the final four games of the year, the Vikings navigated the challenges thrown at them.
Add in their personnel losses from the year prior, and the 2019-20 season could have looked considerably different.
The Vikings didn’t have a player average double-digit points per game, but they did have a total of nine average at least 5.0 points per contest. As a team, they averaged just 63.5 points per game, but they held opposing teams under an average of 60 points per game at the same time.
Augustana found what worked for them, and they advanced to the playoffs playing the game their way. It’s a shame that they won’t get the chance to build off the season, but here’s what the roster may have looked like if they were to have returned to the floor.
With the ever-changing situation surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on school enrollment for the fall semester and beyond, speculating what the 2020-21 roster could have looked like for the Vikings is about the best we can do at this point.
Given the makeup of last year’s roster, the information available to us online, we can make one assumption about who would have been gone from last season’s team.
The Vikings did not have any fifth-year players on their roster a season ago. Neither their website or social media pages showcased who may have graduated on Senior’s Night, so we’re making the assumption that nobody would have been gone from the roster.
Now, with that said, things may have changed but they haven’t been made public as of yet. Given the decision from the University of Alberta-Augustana to suspend all sports for the season due to the pandemic, it’s unclear if anyone has since transferred or not.
With no news out there that we have come across, we’re proceeding under the assumption and speculation that the Vikings would have returned all of their key contributors in 2020-21.
Like most schools and programs all across Canada, the University of Alberta-Augustana would have been awaiting the start of the school year to officially confirm who would have been back and who may have been taking a year off given the remote learning offering as opposed to in-person classes.
With that said, this is where the speculation begins on what the roster may have looked like for the Vikings in 2020-21, again given the information we found online.
Both Sheridan Popenia (Langham, Sask.) and Samantha Dargis (Beaumont, Alta.) were fourth-year players last season, and could have graduated from the program at year’s end.
For the year, Popenia averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 31.8% from the field and 73.3% from the free throw line. Not far behind, Dargis averaged 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game over her 10 regular season appearances, all while shooting 28.7% from the field and 87.5% from the free throw line.
Guard Tegan MacKinnon (St. Albert, Alta.) was named an ACAC North Division Second Team All-Star for her efforts on the floor last season, but won’t get the chance to build off that right away in 2020-21. MacKinnon led the Vikings with 9.3 points per game to go along with 2.4 rebounds and 0.6 assists.
MacKinnon shot 31.3% from the field and 31.0% from three-point range for the season.
She recorded 11 games in double-figures, including four consecutive outings from November 29th through to January 18th. MacKinnon reached a season-high 18 points on a pair of occasions, en route to her all-star nomination.
The Vikings were also set to return the last two ACAC North Rookie of the Year recipients in 2020-21. Tobore Okome (Edmonton, Alta.) was named the North Division Rookie of the Year in 2018-19, while Megan Hebert (Wetaskiwin, Alta.) won the award this past season.
In her second season, Okome finished second on the Vikings in scoring, averaging 8.4 points per game while leading the team with 6.7 rebounds per contest. She began the season picking up right where she left off the year prior, recording double-digit points in eight of the first 10 games of the season.
Okome finished the year with 12 games in double-figures, three of which were double-doubles. For the year, Okome recorded at least six rebounds in 15 contests, showcasing her ability to be a consistent presence on the glass.
Hebert averaged 7.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 34.7% from the field in her first season at the ACAC level. The native of Wetaskiwin, Alberta finished the year ranked 10th in the league in total steals (52) on the defensive end, while also recording six games with double-digit points on the offensive end.
On February 21st against Keyano, Hebert set a career-high with 19 points.
The Vikings were also expected to return guard Alyssa Banez (Lloydminster, Alta.) in 2020-21. Banez averaged 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and a team-best 3.4 assists per game last season, hitting on 36.1% of her field goal attempts for the year along the way.
While their offensive numbers didn’t blow anyone away last season, the Vikings had depth and used it to their advantage. Augustana had a total of 11 players appear in at least 18 games, and a total of nine players who averaged at least 5.0 points per contest.
With that depth and production expected back for the 2020-21 season, one is left to wonder how they would have built on last year in Dedrick’s second season at the helm.
Augustana’s recruiting class for the 2020-21 season leads to more speculation around who may have returned, and who may have moved onto the next chapter of their respective career, basketball or otherwise.
The Vikings added a total of four names to their roster in their 2020-21 recruiting class, two each in the front court and back court. Up front, Dedrick and the Vikings landed commitments from Dominique Cox (Edmonton, Alta.) and Emma Bergen (La Crete, Alta.).
Cox comes to Augustana from Strathcona High School, while Bergen is a product of La Crete Public School.
In the back court, the Vikings added high school teammates Alex Asuncion (Edmonton, Alta.) and Larissa Stephenson (Edmonton, Alta.) from Jasper Place High School. Their familiarity with one another would have given the back court an additional boost.
Given the way that the Vikings used a large part of their rotation last season, one has to assume that these four additions would have factored into that rotation right away, especially Cox and Bergen in the front court mix.
Now, we’ll have to wait for the 2021-22 season to see what these four can do on the hardwood at the collegiate level.
It’s a real shame that the University of Alberta and the University of Alberta-Augustana made the decision to suspend all sports for the 2020-21 season, taking a year away from their student-athletes with no consultation until after the student-athletes spoke their minds on social media.
With the COVID-19 pandemic constantly in a state of flux and the health and well-being of everyone being atop the list of priorities, the decision is understandable. But, it still doesn’t take the sting away of losing sports for the full year.
One can only wonder what the 2020-21 season would have had in store for the Vikings on the court. With a deep roster expected back this coming year, who knows what the year would have presented for Augustana.
Be sure to bookmark our 2020-21 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.
– T. Bennett